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Harlem Hamfats

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Biography

The Harlem Hamfats were a crack studio band formed in 1936 by black talent scout Mayo "Ink" Williams. Its main function was backing jazz and blues singers such as Johnny Temple, Rosetta Howard, and Frankie "Half Pint" Jackson for Decca Records; the Hamfats' side career began when its first record "Oh Red" became a hit. Despite its name, none of the band's members came from Harlem, and none were hamfats, a disparaging term referring to indifferent musicians. Brothers Joe and Charlie McCoy were blues players from Mississippi; leader Herb Morand, Odell Rand, and John Lindsay were from New Orleans; Horace Malcolm and drummers Pearlis Williams and Freddie Flynn were from Chicago. This territorial disparity created a sound which blended various blues styles with New Orleans, Dixieland, and swing jazz. The band's high-spirited playing and excellent musicianship compensated for what some critics have called lack of improvisational skill. The Hamfats' music has been somewhat neglected over the years. The vocalists tended to be derivative of other popular singers of the day such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and various blues singers. The lyrical content of their songs often revolved around subjects like drinking and sex, leading some to dismiss them as a lightweight novelty act. Although it is not seen as an innovative group, the Harlem Hamfats' riff-based style was influential to Louis Jordan, early Muddy Waters, and what would eventually become rhythm & blues and rock & roll. ~ Jim Powers

Top Songs

Formed:

1936

Genre
Years Active:

'30s

Contemporaries